Recently I put out a call for questions. In a stunning display of intellectual consistency and logical thinking, I now offer some responses to those questions. My thanks to everyone who participated.
Steve Buchheit: In the intro to “Witness to the Fall” in your collection, The Sky that Wraps, you refer to a lesson you learned about not hot-dogging the writing and paying closer attention to what you were doing and how that story took longer to write than the others to that point. “Witness” has a distinct difference in style, it feels more controlled and deliberate, more lyrical with stronger muscles flowing under the skin. It was much closer to the story you read at Confusion (which I apologize, I don’t remember the title). Can you elaborate more fully on that lesson you learned and how it continues to affect how you write (here I guess I’m asking about the process)?
JL: Honestly, Steve, I don’t remember what I read at Confusion this year. I was a month out of chemo and still fairly befuddled. That being said, this was kind of big deal. I made a fairly thorough blog post on this topic back in 2007, entitled The New Model Process. The heart of the post is this:
- Write first drafts more slowly. This cuts my raw throughput almost in half, though I’m still quite fast by most rational standards. What I do with the slowdown is watch the words and the sentences far more carefully. Where I used to deliberately avoid revision or correction while drafting, with the exception of gross typos, I’m trying to be a lot more thoughtful about what’s going on in the word layer, the sentence layer, the paragraph layer, the page and scene as a whole
- Stronger focus on revision. Make a line editing pass. Then make a characterization pass. Then make a plot logic pass. Then make a prose style pass. Look it over carefully, still taking great pains not to sand off the voicey edges. I think this is possible for me now in a way that it wasn’t five years ago because I have so much better a sense of craft and a much more finely tuned control. I think of this not as sanding down the draft — how I used to view revision, and why I had so much trouble with it — and more like lacquering a fine piece of wood. I’m adding finish, color and depth, while preserving the grain and character of what lies beneath.
I’ve long since internalized that New Model Process, and continued to see it evolve. A fairly clear example of the more recent evolution is in my novel writing process. In addition to the read aloud step I have added, I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into multiple, increasingly subtle revision passes.
As it turns out, I can only draft so slowly. If I write too slowly, it’s like trying to ride a bicycle too slowly. I just wind up falling off. But revisions continue to ramify and extend. Especially at novel length. So that lesson, five years later, is still echoing for me.
Michael: You haven’t mentioned your trip to Antarctica lately…Where are you in the planning stages? Are you still considering doing a kickstarter for it? Or are you waiting until your next scan to decide on these things?
JL: The Antarctica trip is still a goal. My focus has been on the proposal for Going to Extremes, which is the book that will document the trip. The hoped-for result is a sufficiently large advance on Extremes that the trip can be funded out of that. Alternatively, I may yet do a Kickstarter.
MAC: Do you write faster writing fiction or non-fiction?
JL: Hah! I have no idea. I suspect the answer is that I write faster in fiction. I may know more after I’ve worked all the way through the Going to Extremes project, which will be my first foray into book length non-fiction.
jetse: Is science fiction (or speculative fiction for that matter) wants to do something truly new, what should it do?
JL: Man, if I knew the answer to that, I’d be a bestseller, wouldn’t I? More seriously, I see at least two answers, pointing to two different facets of the question.
One is that we need to reach a wider audience. Younger. More entry level. And we need to reach them with books and stories that invite them back for more. If every kid that had read Harry Potter became a dedicated fantasy fan, our genre would rival romance today.
The other is that I think we need to continue to redefine our ideas and ideals. In some ways, SF right now is where rock and roll was in the early 1980s. Slick, packaged, overproduced and (relatively speaking) starved for innovation. I suppose that’s normal in the life cycle of any cultural or artistic movement. But if anyone is equipped to break the cycle, it should be SF, its writers and its readers.
I just wish I was smart enough to see how to do those things.
jettcat: What is your one true cheese?
JL: Sottocenere al tartufo. ‘Nuff said.
xjenavivex: Can you tell us a little more about your plans to write web series content?
JL: I do have some specific plans to write Web series content, but I don’t have a contract yet, so I’m not free to comment at any length. Let’s just say steampunk and hella fun, and leave it at that for now. When I can announce more, I will.
xjenavivex: Also, what are some of your favorite comfort foods?
Do you like to cook?
Do you ever look back over your collection of pictures and find yourself inspired to write a new story?
JL: Comfort foods: I love boy food. Pub grub. Pizza. Burgers. Chips and dip. I’d love to reprogram myself on this one, but, well, there you are.
Cooking: I do like to cook. I’m competent but not expert, and have a few signature dishes which I’m quite good at. I’m also capable of following most recipes. But I live alone and eat a lot of solo meals, so I often don’t bother. Plus I have a fair number of people in my life who are much better cooks than I am. Easier to mooch off them.
Looking back: Sometimes, yes, my photo files inspire me. That’s one reason I have them, naturally enough.